Exclusive interview with Sheikh Muhammad Karakunnu, Director of Islamic Publishing House, Kerala, on May 18th 2002

It was in midst of his busy schedule that Jaihoon was given an opportunity to meet face to face with the renowned writer and thinker whom other writers see as their honorable guru.

So here was a dot-com enthusiast
With questions he wouldn’t resist (from asking)
As Destiny had made the choice
He met the thinker at a quiet place.
One thing was sure
After meeting this sire
That simplicity coupled with knowledge
Will raise the seeker to a greater edge.

He spoke thus…

Mother’s care
at MeraWatan

Jaihoon: Sheikh, the other day you mentioned in your speech about the duty of expats towards the parents back at home, especially one’s mother. You decried the practice of promoting Old Age homes calling it ‘unthinkable for the human conscience’. Can you elaborate this point?

Sheikh: This is definitely a key issue facing any expatriate. In fact his very purpose of leaving his homeland is to earn for taking care of them and his children. It is this obligation that forces him to leave his dear ones. He has to ensure that there are right people to take care of them. However, if he has the capacity to visit them often, then he must do so. Whatsoever, parents should not be neglected at any cost.

Watch Video Sheikh Muhammad Karakunnu explaining the duty of expats towards their aged parents back in the home country

The Culture of the preacher

Jaihoon: Da’awa is very crucial in today’s world where Islam is much misunderstood. If we were to compare Da’awa in olden days and at present, we see that in the former case, missionaries traveled across seas and lands on foot or caravans to strange lands facing a lot of hardships. It was not in an organized manner as todays. Presently, we are in possession of technology- we have the media and many other facilities. Yet when we compare the results of both, we see that the former enjoyed greater fruits than the latter. How do you explain this phenomenon?

Sheikh: The present Muslim community is building a hindrance for the spread of Islam. The ideology is not just to be explained in books. It needs a practical example. Also, the culture of the preacher is very crucial.

Jaihoon: Do you mean his personal character?

Sheikh: Yes. All his personal and public life. Others see Muslims as the role model for the creed of Islam. So the corrupt state of present Muslims is a big hindrance to the spread of Islam.

Jaihoon : Another phenomenon we notice is that in earlier days it was individuals who were involved in the missionary activities. In countries like India, that was previously deep rooted in idol worship, it was individual saints (like Moinudhin Chishti or Nizamuddin Auliya in the North) or small bands of men (as Malik Bin Dinar and companions in the South) who later became the focus of the spread of Islam. At present, we have many organizations and revivalist movements. Yet why don’t we see that mesmerism of the olden days among the present movements?

Sheikh: There are two reasons.

Firstly, it is undoubtedly the personality of the preacher. His virtues and purity of heart definitely plays foremost role.

Secondly, the community that was preached into was not in the clutches of organized religion. For example, in countries like India, the majority of the people’s belief was not deeply rooted in Hinduism. But today their organizations are much active and can even resort to violence in some cases. This can become a major hindrance to the spread of Islam.

The personality of the preacher is however very important.

Local Islam vs. International Islam

Jaihoon: Wherever Islam has spread, it has always embraced the local traditions of the region. Be it in Arabia, India or China. It is said that such a symbiosis at times harm the universal nature of Islam.

Sheikh: In the earlier stages of Islam, it has always accepted those local customs which are not inconsistent with its basic tenets. It has happened otherwise also.

Jaihoon: Sheikh, what I had in mind was that those earlier system of adopting local traditions are being challenged by the present international revivalist movements. Especially after the Sep. 11th, an international Muslim conscience is awakening. These movements are aimed at eradicating the geo-political boundaries. Such a thought is conflicting with the interest of Muslim communities of a particular nation, say India, who face some unique problems.

How do you evaluate such a condition?

Sheikh: Islam is a universal religion. It aims at a single community. In essence, it does not recognize boundaries. Not only Islam, other ideologies also talk about a single world. However, political nations are a reality. It has influenced Muslim history much. As long it does not clash with Islam’s basic belief system, there is no harm in it.

India: The North vs.
South Paradox

Jaihoon: Now, let me delve more into the Indian situation. In the North, we have the most brilliant scholars produced by renowned institutions. But the Muslim mass is very ignorant and in a deprived situation. On the other hand, if we look at the South we have Muslims very active culturally and politically unified. There are plenty of organizations to such an extend that there is intense competition among different groups and sects.

Sheikh, how can we strike a balance between these two extremes?

Sheikh: This problem has a historic perspective. In North, many Muslim scholars have passed by. There have been Muslim rule for centuries. All this has influenced the mentality of the people. But at the same time, there was the outbreak of Partition (in 1947). This was something which weakened them, mentally and physically. They had no proper leadership. They were unorganized and very backward in their education. Communalism and communal riots gave them no time to think about their progress. Such a condition is continuing now. They find no leisure time to think peacefully about development.

The Muslims in the South enjoy comparatively better harmonious climate. Many great scholars have authored works of high caliber, but they happened to be in the regional tongue. The specialty of Urdu is that it is widely spoken around the world. Language has been a barrier for states like Kerala to showcase their works to the outside world.

Jaihoon: Sheikh, are you telling that Islamic literatures in Malayalam has to be translated into other languages?

Sheikh: Indeed. In fact, Kerala is among the few states in the world where religious propagation is being conducted at a very organized level. In earlier times, world renowned scholars such as Zainudhin Makhdum has authored in Arabic. His Thuhfathul Mujahideen still remains a masterpiece. At that time, such works became famous in other parts of world (since written in Arabic) but Keralites failed to appreciate it. Today, the Islamic literatures in Malayalam are understood by the Keralite Muslims, but unknown to the outside world.

Ali Mian:
Indian Pride

Jaihoon: When we talk of education of Indian Muslims, we cannot afford to ignore a great personality who was the pride of Muslim India. Even for the Asian world, he was a towering achievement. What do you say on the contributions of Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (Rahimahu Allah)

Sheikh: Ali Mian was indeed a great sage whom the entire world respected. His books are full of wisdom and he had much influence especially among the Arab world. But had he penetrated into the Muslim community by mobilizing his energy through an organized manner, his efforts would have bore more fruits.

An English
Muslim daily

Jaihoon: Sheikh, you mentioned about organizing the community. A English national newspaper is among the cornerstones for the community’s revival. How do you see the scope and need of it in the present context?

Sheikh: Need is there. But it is not practical at this moment. Many educationists like Syed Hamid has made efforts but in vain. It has been restricted to small magazines and regional dailies.

Books vs. Net

Jaihoon: Sheikh, as a director of a leading publishing house, have you noticed any negative trend on the reading habit since the coming of Web?

Sheikh: No. Not as far as the institution I represent is concerned. The thirst for knowledge has only increased.

Then Why
Moral Decay?

Jaihoon: Sheikh, a related question. Despite the availability of books and countless Muslim organizations, the moral decay is deepening among the Muslim community. Can you briefly summarize the reason why?

Sheikh: In short, we have tens of thousands of madrassas. Plenty of Arabic colleges. Missionary activities are everywhere. Yet, as you mentioned, its effects are not visible in the community.

I ascribe two reasons for this.

Firstly, the worship and rituals do not reflect in the social or financial dealings nor in their personal nor political life.

The missionary activities are utilized by different groups to blame on another. The numerous publications are concentrated on this activity. What benefit will there be if this is the state? They are bothered about finding other’s faults, than one’s own.

Isl@mic B@nking

Jaihoon: One last question. Do you think Islamic banking would become a reality?

Sheikh: Definitely. But there should be a conscious effort at international level. If the Arab nations where wealth is much concentrated make attempts, it will be much successful.

The best alternative to fight the western hegemony is to unify the markets of the Muslim world: a common defense system, a common technical and scientific platform, common production and marketing and in short a common currency.

But the sad reality is that the seeds of border conflicts sowed by the western colonial powers is acting as a hindrance to this. If we overcome this, then we shall be successful.

Spreading peace @ Cyberspace

Jaihoon: Just to conclude. What is your opinion about endeavors such as Jaihoon.com, in spreading the message of peace and understanding?

Sheikh: I am very hopeful of this new medium. There are many who look upon the online world as a source of learning. Many have embraced Islam through such interactions. Indeed, modern technology should be used to disseminate the word of peace and justice.

Photos by Jaihoon. Excerpts from the interview with Sheikh Muhammad Karakunnu at Sharjah on May 18th